Vanilla is one of the most popular flavourings on the planet – and one of the most expensive – leading to a thriving market for alternatives, but vanilla beans are still in high demand. An estimated 95 % of global vanilla flavouring used in products like ice cream, baked goods and confectionery is artificially derived, even as demand has increased for natural vanilla bean-derived flavouring. Vanilla bean prices have seen enormous fluctuation in recent years, pushing some manufacturers toward synthetic vanillin, but others have reverted to natural vanilla due to a broader consumer push for natural ingredients.
Cured vanilla beans are expected to remain expensive in the coming season, although a successful crop this year means prices are likely to be about 10 to 15 % lower than 2017’s record level, when black, non-split Madagascan vanilla reached USD 635 a kilogram, up from just USD 100 a kilogram two years earlier.
Suppliers attributed the surge in prices to increased demand for natural vanilla in luxury products, and this has carried over into the mainstream with the drive toward clean label ingredients. Major players like General Mills, Nestlé, Hershey and Kellogg, for example, have pledged to use natural vanilla, with all the supply challenges that it entails.
Sustainability is a big issue for vanilla, and several industry-backed initiatives aim to improve vanilla quality while also reducing prices and protecting the livelihood of farmers. Established in 2016, the Sustainable Vanilla Initiative is one of the largest, with members representing 70 % of global vanilla bean purchases right along the supply chain, from vanilla bean traders to food manufacturers. International flavour and ingredient company members include Barry Callebaut, Blommer, Firmenich, Givaudan, Symrise, Kerry and Mane. The initiative focuses on vanilla grown in Madagascar, which produces about 80 % of the global crop.